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We Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts!

October 31, 2017

 

 

50 percent of all Americans believe in ghosts or that the buildings can be haunted, which is equal to the number of people who believe that global warming is caused by human activity. - Dennis Waskul

 

 

When we hear a scary sound outside our window, or notice something go bump in the night, we can’t help but wonder if it might actually be a ghost. We all know people who swear up and down that they’ve seen something, and it’s fun to tell scary stories about supernatural events. But can you ever know for sure whether ghosts exist or not?

 

One of the things about science is that it’s impossible to actually know the answer to that question. Or, to put it a better way: it’s impossible to know for sure that ghosts don’t exist. Science is all about making claims about how the world works, and then testing those claims. But in order to do that, the claim has to be testable in the first place. The claim “Ghosts don’t exist” isn’t testable, because every time you try to test it, somebody could always say “Well, you just didn’t find it yet.”

 

Here's how our friend Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains it, with help from Bigfoot:

 

 

 

That’s why social scientists like Dennis Waskul think the most interesting thing to study about ghosts isn’t whether they’re real or not--but rather why people seem so convinced that they are real. And this question is great, not just because Dennis can test it. Understanding why people believe what they believe is one of the most important things for us to understand about the world around us.

 

Dennis spent a lot of time traveling around the Midwestern United States looking for ghost stories, so he could understand why people believe they’ve seen ghosts, and--perhaps most importantly--what the ghosts do for the people who’ve seen them.

 

One of Dennis’s most interesting findings is that ghosts don’t seem scary to the people who live with them. Instead, they find them friendly. Either the ghosts help them through a troubling time in their lives, or just make their houses seem less empty and more alive.

 

Have you ever wondered why people believe what they believe? For example, why do people love a certain sports team, even if it keeps losing? Or why do people have superstitions or lucky charms? You can be like Dennis and do your own interviews. Try it, and let us know what you find out! 

 

For a transcript of this episode and other educational materials, pledge on our Patreon page!


 

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